Friday, October 17, 2008

Does Christian Fundamentalism Contribute to Domestic Violence? (Part 1)

Some years ago, I started working on this project. Although I abandoned it and did not conduct any "in field research" (other than an interview or so), I offer this little contribution to the discussion of family violence. It is really more of a lit review than anything and comes to, what I thought, were some surprising conclusions.--- JCA.

That being said.... here it is (It follows in three installments)--

My interest in this topic began rather undramatically. I am a professor of Elementary Education at United Methodist College. In that capacity, I advise all Elementary Education majors. At least ninety percent of these are women. I pride myself on having good relationships with my students. My wife and I often have students in our home joining us for dinner. They know that I have a “call me whenever you need to call” policy. Over the course of four years, we become pretty good friends.

A few summers back was a “wedding extravaganza” summer. I attended four weddings. I also had total knee replacement surgery so it was quite a project to attend them all. But, I’m glad I did. I know it meant a lot to my students. I guess I feel a bit like “Uncle Jimmy” to them. I just can’t help it! I really do care.

I think it was this care that I have for them that made me “perk-up” and take notice. Three of the four young ladies are members of fundamentalist churches. Their weddings reflected this. One even included an evangelistic appeal. All included vows in which my students promised to be submissive to their new husband. One young lady had written her own vows. They went something like this: “Jon, I need you to guide me, teach me, and show me the way I should go in life. I need you to be my shepherd.” When I heard this, I had a bit of a flashback to my own wedding day some twenty-seven years ago.

I became a Christian in 1971. I was not raised in any church. As a teenager, I was fully involved in the hippie scene in Kansas City and pretty antagonistic toward religion. I was also desperately searching for “something.” Through a friend, I was introduced to the Jesus Movement and became a believer. My life really took a “one-eighty.” In thirty-seven years, many things have changed, but my basic connection to God has not changed.

Of course, the Jesus People were fundamentalist through and through. I had a questioning mind. I was told not to question. I attempted to comply. I met Irene at a church hay ride when I was in college. We became fast friends, lovers, and soul mates. In 1977 we were married.

We wrote our own vows too. I promised to guide, teach, and protect Irene. She promised to submit to my leadership. She never did. A few years ago, I asked her why she never submitted. She informed me that she always submitted when she got to do what she wanted to! I call that half-baked submission.

We left the Jesus People church (then just a fundamentalist Charismatic church) in 1980 because they were getting increasingly involved in the Moral Majority. I had always been a pacifist and had registered with the draft as a conscientious objector. Also, I had that thinking problem. Was the world really seven-thousand years old? Did the sun really stop in the sky? Was Jonah really in the belly of the fish for three days? I (not Irene so much) was labeled a troublemaker. I was heading for hell.

I didn’t go to hell, but I did go to seminary. Then I really began to question. Did God really ordain that the man was to be in charge of his wife? What were the implications of that? What were the dangers?

All people have theological/philosophical presuppositions when they approach difficult questions. I am a minister in a small Presbyterian denomination. I serve as a bi-vocational pastor of a small congregation in rural Kentucky. I think it is safe to say that I am in substantial agreement with the church's Confession of Faith. For the most part, we are “middle of the road” folks—at least on paper. I don’t see the church as fundamentalist is any regard (once again, I'm talking "on paper"). Yet, my denomination is certainly not a mainline liberal Protestant church like our big brother, the Presbyterian Church USA. Not that we have "problems" with PCUSA, necessarily. We have just chosen more of a "middle path." Still, I must hasten to add that this is true to varying degrees-- some being more liberal and others less so.

One thing is certain. My denomination is openly, unabashedly pro-women’s rights. We were the first Presbyterian body to ordain women, the first woman being ordained in the late 1800’s. We currently have many women clergy.

So, I wondered what the implications were for my students who were freely choosing, as far as I could tell, to “submit” to male authority. What would it mean for them? What would it mean for their children? What would it mean for their husbands?

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